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Federal Court Halts Projects in Arizona and New Mexico that Could Jeopardize Mexican Spotted Owl

Tracking the Bird's Response to Human Activities at the Heart of WildEarth Guardians' Lawsuit

TUCSON, Ariz.— A federal judge on Thursday ruled for WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) in a lawsuit that challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to monitor populations of the Mexican spotted owl in national forests throughout Arizona and New Mexico. Guardians requested the court halt several major projects that would impact the bird’s habitat until the Forest Service could demonstrate compliance with the Endangered Species Act.

The lawsuit filed last year alleged that the Forest Service failed to monitor populations of the Mexican spotted owl as required by a 2005 agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).  But in October 2008 the Service issued a report admitting it had not done the monitoring. It also admitted that it might have exceeded its allowable quota of harm to some species, including the Mexican spotted owl. Guardians alleged that the agency had no idea what the affects of its actions are on the owl without tracking changes in its numbers.

“The Forest Service promised it would count the numbers of the Mexican spotted owl and it hasn’t” said Bryan Bird of Guardians. “But the agency continued business as usual with no idea how this imperiled bird is faring. It took a federal lawsuit to give the owl some much needed attention.”

Today’s ruling prevents the Forest Service from implementing several large-scale forest projects that could have a negative impact on the Mexican spotted owl until USFWS can approve a new plan for protecting the bird. The court order stops logging on the Upper Beaver Creek timber sale and the Phase II Utility Maintenance Project in Arizona as well as the Perk-Grindstone Project in southern New Mexico.

"With this decision, the court affirms the common sense notion that the Forest Service can't simply ignore its obligations to conserve the most imperiled wildlife. “ Said Steve Sugarman, counsel for WildEarth Guardians in the case. “Even the Forest Service was forced to admit that it failed to comply with its clear legal duty to monitor the population trend of Mexican spotted owls. Hopefully, it will now develop an honest and workable plan to protect this amazing species."

To view Thursday’s ruling, click here.


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